First was his father, who died too young at age 72, a massive heart attack undeniably inspired by Type-II diabetes diagnosed 20 years earlier. Not long after, his oldest sibling died of unnatural causes at age 52, a complex man struggling to put it all together after an early career in the United States Marines. Then his only sister died at age 58 of a brain tumor—one month before Senator Kennedy died of the very same cancer. She stuffed a lifetime of straight talk into 15 fleeting months. His mother, now age 82, wonders how she could have possibly survived not only her husband but her first two children. If it weren’t for a strong personal faith, she’d be shamelessly bitter.
At a recent cocktail reception, he fielded the standard question—“What do you do?” It instantly exhumed suppressed memories in a collision of conflicted emotions. Spontaneously, he bypassed the normal response, the one always given, in favor of something more direct.
“We design research buildings. The best thing is that the scientists in these facilities work on solving the world’s most challenging problems, those related to human imperatives—food, water, health, safety, energy. Simply, we make a small contribution to sustaining life.”
He felt a sort of cleansing in his answer—pure, whole, satisfied—even noble.
Most of us have loved ones that passed through this world before their time, faced with unexpected physical or emotional change. What can be more fulfilling than to “pay it forward” to mankind, to the planet? We can certainly influence more favorable outcomes to human challenges.
He was recently listening to a backlog of CDs accumulated over a collection of years. A lasting favorite, Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks cycled into random-play mode. “If You See Her, Say Hello” (Track 8) emerged. Sinking back into his soft armchair, he reflected on the gloomy day he struggled though reciting those lyrics at his brother’s funeral. He simultaneously cried and smiled in a contorted mixture of sensations—rescued by thoughts of how his work would surely enable someone else’s brother to survive another day, another week, perhaps many years.
What do you do?
Image courtesy of Steve Riojas